Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 9;   March 3, 2010: What Is Workplace Bullying?

What Is Workplace Bullying?

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

We're gradually becoming aware that workplace bullying is a significant deviant pattern in workplace relationships. To deal effectively with it, we must know how to recognize it. Here's a start.
George III, King of Great Britain and King of Ireland, 1738-1820

George III (George William Frederick, 4 June 1738 - 29 January 1820) was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland during the American Revolu­tion­ary War. The U.S. Declaration of Indepen­dence includes a list of Facts submitted as evidence of the need to declare independence. Among them is this: "He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures."

This tactic has its analog in the modern workplace. Some bully bosses habitually schedule late meetings on short notice for times that they know will conflict with home responsibilities of their targets, such as a late meeting on a day when the target is supposed to pick up the kids at day care. Or they require a subordinate to make a business trip on the day of a child's graduation. Was King George III a bully? We cannot say with certainty whether the policies in question were solely his creation, but this particular tactic is surely a bullying tactic. Painting, oil on canvas, by Benjamin West (1738-1820). Painted for George III and Queen Charlotte. Now in the Royal Collection. Image courtesy Wikimedia

You've probably heard about bullying lately — both in school and at work. Perhaps your company or organization has a policy about bullying, or maybe one is being created. Maybe you fear someone, or someone makes you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you think some people are bullies. And maybe they are.

Bullying is a tragic but real part of work life. To defend yourself, or just to survive, you must know what bullying is. There is no universally accepted definition yet. For now, you must pick a definition that works for you. Here's mine:

Workplace bullying is any aggressive behavior, associated with work, and primarily intended to cause physical or psychological harm to others.

This definition encompasses a wider range of behavior than most definitions. Let's explore it.

Workplace bullying need not occur in the workplace, though it can. It need not involve abuse of power, though it can. It doesn't have to be part of a repeated pattern, though it can be. It doesn't even have to actually cause physical or psychological harm to others, though it can. All that's required is that it be aggressive, associated with work, and that it be primarily intended to cause harm, physically or psychologically.

For example, suppose Rita falsely accuses you of making mistakes in the accounting system. That might be bullying, if her primary goal is to harm you. For instance, Rita might consider you a rival. To sabotage your career, she accuses you of incompetence. Her primary goal is to harm you. That's bullying.

But if Rita lodges her complaint out of concern for accuracy generally, and if she is simply mistaken about your role in the alleged inaccuracies, the behavior might be oafish, destructive, rude, and disrespectful, but it isn't bullying. Causing you harm would not have been her primary objective.

Jake manages an IT group. He tells himself that he wants his group to be the most productive in the company. He constantly hovers over the people he manages, setting near-impossible goals. Workplace bullying need not
occur in the workplace, though
it can. It need not involve
abuse of power, though it can.
People who question him about his demanding style — or worse, people who don't meet the goals he sets — are either terminated whenever there are layoffs, or assigned to remote locations involving 100% travel. That's why his people regularly work killing hours. Jake believes productivity is high because he runs a tight ship, but he seems to get some kind of perverse pleasure from the distress his policies cause.

Jake is a bully. He might be achieving high productivity, but since there are many more effective ways to accomplish that, his choice to employ such draconian measures suggests that his primary objective is the psychological pain his approach produces.

Reflect on this definition and these examples. Think about how you're treated and how you treat others. What do you notice now that you haven't noticed before? Go to top Top  Next issue: Guidelines for Delegation  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just . Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

A thiefLooking the Other Way
Sometimes when we notice wrongdoing, and we aren't directly involved, we don't report it, and we don't intervene. We look the other way. Typically, we do this to avoid the risks of making a report. But looking the other way is also risky. What are the risks of looking the other way?
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Democrat of Wisconsin)Confronting the Workplace Bully: II
When bullied, one option is to fight back, but many don't, because they fear the consequences. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
A modern roller coaster showing an inverted portion of the tripHow Workplace Bullies Use OODA: II
Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time are intuitive users of Boyd's OODA model. Here's Part II of an exploration of how bullies use the model.
Palm trees blowing in a hurricaneDealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
The Town Hall of Brighton, England, in 2010Social Isolation and Workplace Bullying
Social isolation is a tactic widely used by workplace bullies. What is it? How do bullies use it? Why do bullies use it? What can targets do about it?

See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

An abandoned railwayComing August 21: Perfectionism and Avoidance
Avoiding tasks we regard as unpleasant, boring, or intimidating is a pattern known as procrastination. Perfectionism is another pattern. The interplay between the two makes intervention a bit tricky. Available here and by RSS on August 21.
A dog playing catch with a discAnd on August 28: Playing at Work
Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize, to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean. Available here and by RSS on August 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership
On 14The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Leadership December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in leadership and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at leadership from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.